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This Is KI
By Donald Bohan
Within the body there is a potential intrinsic energy that if tapped, can enable one to perform extraordinary feats of power. The potential for such energy exists in all human beings to some degree, and can be increased through certain disciplines. In western terms this energy can be referred to as vital force, inner spirit or life force. But in the west, studies of this energy have been very limited. In the east, the concept of internal energy has been studied since ancient times. To the oriental, the concept of an inner energy is not just an idea; it is a concept upon which much of his philosophy, art, and even medicine is based. In India, this force is known as “Prajna” or “Prana”; in China it is “CH’I”; and in Japan, it is known by the term which form now on will be referred to as “KI.”
KI is not a visible substance. It is ethereal and is contained in the atmosphere, where it circulates and permeates throughout the universe. This is a hard concept to understand because of the intangibility of KI. At most, one can be aware of its effects when manifested as a focused flow. First off Capra, in The Tao of Physics, compares the Chinese Neo-Taoist Theory of CH’I (KI) to the modern, western quantum theory of matter and energy.
“Chi literally means gas or ether…Like the quantum field, CH’I is conceived as a tenuous and non-perceptible form of matter which is present throughout space and can condense into solid, material objects.”
Gail Lawson, in her article, “KI – The Universal Force,” relates the flow of KI more directly to life functions, comparing it to the air we breathe: “We live in a sea of this energy, an energy that renews itself daily and promotes life functions in a manner similar to the air we breathe. We are limited as to how much KI we can contain only by our capacity to absorb it.”
KI flows through the body much like the blood in the bloodstream or like nerve impulses through neuron tracts. This flow follows certain pathways with its’ own points of exchange. The flow operates through the spiritual, rather than the physical body, and is conducted through this spiritual (astral) body much like electricity is conducted through an electrolyte. KI is absorbed by the body at points, which correspond to the carcass, the greatest amount being concentrated in the lower abdominal region. The greatest portion of KI is acquired through the air we breathe; so by more efficient breathing, more KI can be absorbed.
Most of the disciplines dealing with awareness have a great emphasis on breathing exercises. These exercises, whether Yoga, Zen, or the various martial arts breathing forms, deal with concentrating the breath in the lower abdomen, the place of highest concentration of KI within the body. From this place in the lower abdomen, the KI flows through its’ pathway to all parts of the body. This center of concentration of KI is known in Japan as the Hara (Lit. Center) and in China as the Tan-tien. Awareness of this concept of center is important in developing KI as a power. It is interesting to note that statues and paintings of Buddhas, guardian statues of Zen and Taoist temples all have exaggerated bellies, indicating large reserves of intrinsic energy or KI.
To reach an understanding of the flow of KI within one’s self, one must achieve a state of harmony between the astral and the physical bodies. The tried and true method of reaching this state of harmony is through mediation with breathing control incorporated. That is, breathing exercises or meditation alone will not bring about this state of harmony. One must meditate while reaching into one’s “Hara” or center in order to “see” or feel the flow within one’s self. There is an interesting parallel between the seeing of the center, which I speak of, and the “seeing” Don Juan talks about in A Separate Reality, by Carlos Castaneda. In this work, the character, Don Juan, says that he “sees” people as a glowing mass of energy with “fibers” of this energy “extending from them.” Furthermore, he sees the center of this energy as emanating from the exact spot corresponding to the “Hara” of which I speak. Could what Don Juan “sees” be KI?
The eastern disciplines of Yoga and Zen both put a strong emphasis on meditation. It is only through meditation that one can become aware of his astral body, and thus reach the first step in attaining the state of harmony necessary to develop one’s KI. This is part of the “enlightenment” talked about by Yogis and Zen Maters. Advanced Masters of Yoga are capable of amazing feats, which can be attributed to their development of KI as a power. The disciplines, which are most concerned with the development of KI as a useable power, are the warrior disciplines or the martial arts. It is the martial arts that have made the development of power into a way of life and KI is the ultimate power a warrior can attain.
At this point, I feel it is important to make clear just what is meant when I speak of a warrior or a martial artist. Don Juan, in Journey To Ixtlan, by Carlos Castaneda, defines a warrior as a “hunter of Power.” This parallels my own definition of a martial artist as a seeker of KI. This quote from “Warrior,” an essay by David Krieger, makes the matter quite clear:
“If the martial artist is to be viewed as a warrior, he should be distinguished from the soldier or militarist. The soldier obeys orders and, at worst, kills on command, whereas the warrior decides for himself what is right or wrong and acts accordingly. The soldier relies on mechanical weapons to magnify his power, while the warrior relies only upon himself and the universal power of KI which comes through him.”
Thus, the martial arts are the most advanced way to develop the power of KI within a person. In the Orient, the martial arts are an extension of Zen, Shaolin, or other meditative disciplines. Thus, much of the philosophy and the techniques of meditation are incorporated, along with physical motion, into the martial arts.
The warrior, too, in order to understand the KI flow within him, must meditate and practice breathing. Meditation is an integral part of the martial arts. Just as in Yoga, one must clear the mind and body of all external stimuli. The physical body must be pure and clear of obstructions, which can inhibit the flow. The astral body, being an extension of the physical, is thus purified, and the flow of KI can take place freely. When one’ physical body is in a state of perfect harmony with one’s astral body, one can realize the flow of KI within one’s self then progress to learning how to focus it, and finally to extend it outside of one’s body.
When one is in a state of harmony with his astral and physical body, there is no need for ordinary consciousness. Consciousness, as we know it, is a block to the flow of KI. The warrior must learn to act spontaneously, without thinking. In a life or death situation, such as a fight to the death, or even a flat tire at high speed on the highway, thinking is a hindrance to the spontaneous reactions one needs to act appropriately.
A trained man already knows how to act in an emergency. The thinking has already been done in his training, be it swordplay, or driving. In a time of stress, he needs to act. Seconds or milliseconds are too precious to waste, so a trained man will simply act without hesitation with the confidence in his reactions that will pull him through. “Our unified man operating without conscious thought would take his CHI (KI) and use every last bit of it to deal with the emergency he’s facing. Whether or not he would succeed depends on the circumstances. But he wouldn’t defeat himself.”
This state of harmony, of acting without inhibition due to conscious thought, is the Zen state of no-mind, which is vital to the uninhibited flow of KI in the warrior.
“The Hagakure states that the Samurai is good for nothing unless he can go beyond life and death. When it is said that all things are of one mind, you may think that there is such a thing to be known as mind. But the fact is that the mind attached to life and death must be abandoned. Then you can execute wonderful things. That is to say that all things can be accomplished when one attains the Zen state of “no-mind-ness.” The no-mind is one of the most fascinating Zen concepts to mix with the Samurai. A mind unconscious of itself is a mind that is not at all disturbed by affects of any kind. It is the original mind and not the delusive one that is chock full of affects. It is always flowing; it never halts; nor does it turn solid. It fills the whole body, pervading every part of the body. It is never like a stone or a piece of wood. If it should find a resting place anywhere, it is not a mind of no-mind. A no-mind will keep nothing in it. It is thus called mushin.”
This excerpt from “Zen and the Samurai,” by George R. Parulski, parallels the flow of KI to the flow of the no-mind. The concepts applied to no-mind are completely inseparable from the flow of KI, in fact, the no-mind is even said to flow through the body like KI.
“When the mind has achieved mushin, it flows freely from one object to another, flowing like a stream of water, filling every possible corner. For this reason, the mind fulfills every function required of it. But when the flowing is stopped at any point, all other points will get nothing of it. The wheel revolves only when it is not too tightly attached to the axle. If the mind has something in it, it stops functioning. It cannot hear, it cannot see, even when sound enters the ears or light flashes before the eyes.”
The no-mind is present in all phases of the practice of a martial art, from still meditation to actual combat. In the state of no-mind, pain is not felt as pain; the functions of the body are not disturbed by irrelevant stimuli; the KI is flowing without inhibition and incredible feats can be accomplished in this state.
The concept of the Hara or Centre is basic to all martial arts, and also to Yoga and Zen. The belief that KI follows certain pathways through the body is also common to all three disciplines. The science of acupuncture is based on the concept of KI flowing through the whole body and coming close to the surface at certain points. The Chinese believe that many illnesses are caused by a block of KI at certain points and that stimulation by use of needles at certain key KI points aids in restoring the flow to its’ proper balance. Japanese shiatzu massage is based on the same concept.
The martial arts take the concept of the KI flow one step further, in that ultimately, the martial artist learns to focus and extend the KI from the center through the limbs. This principle of extension is unique to the martial arts and has developed to its’ fullest extent in the arts of Tai-Chi-Chuan and Aikido. There are two main concepts of the principle of extension; one deals with linear extension of KI and the other deals with KI being directed in a circular pattern.
Styles of martial arts differ in that some use the circular principle of KI, others the linear, and some styles adopt a combination of both linear and circular principles. Classically, an integral part of the martial arts is the practice of kata. Kata are the formal exercises of the martial arts; ritual battles in which the martial artist fights several imaginary opponents. Through constant practice, on can achieve a no-mind state in doing kata. Kata is moving mediation, the object of which is to achieve a no-mind state and release KI in a focused flow through the movements of the kata. It is this no-mind state that the warrior wants to attain in battle and it is through kata that one learns to combine no-mind and motion. During the course of a kata, which to the observer looks more like a dance, the practitioner must focus on the Hara both for balance and power. Through the movements, whether circular or linear, the practitioner is aware of his entire being; both the astral and physical bodies are in harmony while in motion and one is aware of the full flow of the KI coursing through the body like a current. The advanced martial artist is able to instantly call on his reserve of KI and can handle himself with confidence in any situation without hesitation due to his mastery of the no-mind state.
There are many tales and legends of masters of Yoga, Zen, and of the various martial arts who have accomplished extraordinary feats bordering on the supernatural. I fee that this presentation would be incomplete without listing some documented examples of some of these feats. Naturally, my examples are from the martial arts due to my familiarity and access to sources.
Karate is famous for its’ focus of KI in a linear path. Practitioners are able to break boards and bricks with their bare hands and feet due to extending KI into the object they focus their blow on. This ability is fairly common and can be learned quite easily. There are people that can break the top off a standing bottle with such a focused blow. Masutatsu Oyama toured the world in the nineteen fifties and sixties with demonstrations of board, brick, ice and rock breaking. He fought and killed numerous bulls with his bare hands. He is now teaching Karate in Japan and has adopted a more peaceful existence although his students are still known for their extraordinary power. More striking to me are examples of precisely focused KI. The ability to break the bottom brick in a pile of three, without a blow, but by merely laying a hand on the top brick and focusing the KI through the two bricks and breaking the third. Here is an example of the ability of one Karate Master, Hirokazu Kanazawa, taken from Moving Zen, C.W. Nicol: “Another pile of three old bricks was placed. He determined to put his spirit or “KI” into the middle brick. With a shout, he struck the top of the pile of three bricks, and at times we must accept the incredible, for it was the middle brick, and only the middle brick, that cracked through the middle. There was no trick, and only an audience of a few students.”
Practitioners of Tai Chi Chuan are said to possess superhuman abilities. It is not uncommon to hear tales of men who not only live to a remarkably advanced age, but are, at that age, capable of throwing young, strong, heavy men about as if they were made of paper.
Practitioners of Aikido also develop extraordinary powers, as in the case of an eighty-six pound teenage girl defying a two hundred and twenty pound man to lift her off the ground, and he cannot budge her due to the fact that she has extended her KI through her legs and into the ground, rooting her to the earth. Aikido is a unique martial art in that rather than practicing for years in order to develop a focused flow of KI, it begins with KI. One cannot practice Aikido without first developing their flow of KI. Thus, Aikido is a very esoteric art, being based exclusively on the use of the flow of KI. Advanced practitioners of Aikido develop their KI so that it becomes a permanent aura around them, which can serve as an extra sense, or even as a shield. An interesting example is a comparison of Mater Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of Aikido to a “miracle” in the Bible:
“I stared in utter disbelief and all that came to mind was Luke, 4-28: ‘And all they in the synagogue, when they heard these things, were filled with wrath. And rose up, and thrust him out of the city, and led him unto the brow of the hill whereon their city was built, that they might cast him down headlong. But he, passing through the midst of them, went his way….’ For the burly American military policemen, when they had heard my descriptions of the tiny old man’s physical prowess, were filled with disbelief, so we had come up in the elevator, and had led the old man onto the flat roof of the building where a gym was built, that they might cast him down. But he, passing through the midst of them, went his way, laughing.
And as in John: 10-39; ‘Again they tried to arrest him, but he escaped from their hands.”
This is an example of KI developed to the highest degree, where one need not even touch an opponent in order to make him fall or escape from his grasp. Movies have been taken of Master Ueshiba in action, and all they show is an old man calmly walking through a crowd of attackers, not even touching them, and the attackers are falling as if cast about by a tornado. The comparison to the Bible is interesting, and many so-called miracles could probably be explained by the concept of KI.
As I have said before, a no-mind sate is essential to the flow of KI, for conscious thought blocks the flow. There are many instances of ordinary people that have never studied a martial art or have never meditated that have, in times of dire need, performed amazing feats or power; women lifting cars single-handedly to free their children trapped beneath, etc. People jumping twelve-foot fences to find help, etc. These people, when questioned later, all said that they were not thinking about what they were doing, they just did it. The emergency was so great that they did not stop to consider the possibility of what they were doing, they did not think; they were in a state of no-mind, and undoubtedly their KI was flowing unobstructed.
There is a special reserve of KI, which very few people in human history have tapped. This reserve is located at the base of the spinal column and is known as Kundalini, or the serpent strength. Only a very pure individual can tamper with this force since it magnifies all the qualities of the individual. One must have perfect health to withstand the shock of this energy as it travels like a spiral up the spinal column. One must make sure that it travels in the correct route; up, rather than down. A block in either the spiritual or physical body would not just inhibit the flow, as in regular KI, but would be fatal, causing an effect like a sealed container being filled to too high a pressure. People that have experienced the Kundalini report newfound powers such as clairvoyance, telepathy, the power to heal, etc.
Mankind is entering a new age in which his knowledge of formerly “occult” powers is widening, and the causes of these powers are not only to be unveiled, but also put to use. KI is a mysterious power now but in the future, it will have been more thoroughly studied, and more clearly understood. It may be possible to focus KI through the senses or other focus points in order to heighten awareness and communication. KI may be able to explain psychic as well as physical phenomena of paranormal power. There are many parallels between the ancient, eastern concept of KI and the new, western theory of “Psi.” It is evident that the key to the power lies in the mind.
In the future, abilities that are now considered “superhuman,” may be common-place; due to extended knowledge of their cause; it has happened before…..
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